It’s 65 years since Brother Andrew started taking Bibles to persecuted Christians in Eastern Europe. The work of Open Doors, the organisation he founded, has changed significantly in its scope and methods – but at the heart of it is the same God and the same mission.
In July 1955, a Dutchman called Andrew started to encourage the church in Eastern Europe and Russia. To Open Doors supporters and many more, he is known as Brother Andrew – the author of God’s Smuggler and the founder of Open Doors.
After 65 years, the scope and mission of Open Doors continues to grow, supporting persecuted Christians in more than 60 countries worldwide. Bibles are still smuggled – but now they’re just as likely to be digital as print.
65 years ago…
On 15 July 1955, Brother Andrew started his first journey to Poland. He went to tell people about Jesus, and he heard God speak to him about standing up for a church that was about to be crushed by Communism: “Strengthen that which remains and is about to die” (Revelation 3:2).
“When you come again, please bring Bibles with you,” said a pastor in Warsaw. And that’s exactly what Brother Andrew did.
Hundreds of trips follow in a VW Beetle. When countries in Eastern Europe banned the import of Christian literature, the ministry was at a crossroads. Should Brother Andrew and his team continue to distribute Bibles or not? They felt called by God to continue, and Open Doors became synonymous with Bible smuggling, sometimes more than a thousand in one journey. Christians in Eastern Europe and Russia finally received the Bibles for which they had been praying for years.
“Every day we prayed for open doors at the borders and time and again the Lord answered our prayers,” remembers Klaus Muurling, a spokesperson for Open Doors Netherlands. “He was also close by when my wife and I were arrested at the Russian border. Three days we were held and interrogated. A trip I will never forget.”
Changes in persecution and changes in support
Over the years, Bible smuggling remains part of Open Doors’ ministry across the world – now one of many ways the organisation supports persecuted Christians. Other methods include various forms of training, emergency food and medical relief aid, financial help and socio-economic development.
God has used Open Doors’ work to answer the prayers of believers who are persecuted for their faith in countries far beyond Eastern Europe. In more recent decades, the rise of Islamic extremism has replaced Communism as the main ideology behind Christian persecution – something Brother Andrew predicted as long ago as the 1970s. In eight out of the top 10 countries on the World Watch List, it is radical Islam which drives Christian persecution. Even more recently, the big new challenge is the spread of radical Islamist groups in sub-Saharan Africa.
Persecution has also gone digital. Open Doors worked in China throughout the years of Chairman Mao and the cultural revolution where countless thousands of Christians were imprisoned and killed. Famously, Open Doors once smuggled one million Bibles to China in a single night. China is now at the forefront of a new form of persecution: tools that make our lives easier and safer (facial recognition, CCTV surveillance, location tracking) are being weaponised. Alarmed by the growth of the Chinese church, the authorities have closed thousands of churches and forbidden children under 18 to attend churches. They have ordered many churches to install cameras to identify those entering and leaving and to monitor sermon content. Similar uses of surveillance and internet tracking are used to target believers in India and Russia.
Smuggling digital Bibles
But digital technology is a double-edged sword and has also been used to help support Christians. Bibles no longer need to be taken by hand to many countries. A pastor’s entire library can be stored on a micro SD card. And the internet makes it possible for isolated Christians to obtain Bibles, listen to Christian media and contact other Christians.
The evolution of technologies has helped thousands of isolated Christians – for instance, 9,000 believers were reached online in the Gulf each day in 2019. In many regions, this ministry has given the work of Open Doors partners a head start in 2020 as they’ve adjusted to new ways of doing discipleship during a pandemic.
In Malaysia, for instance, all meetings were banned because of Covid-19 and a lot of planned in-person training had to immediately halt. However, Open Doors local partners were undaunted: “Since in-person trainings are not allowed – let’s go ONLINE!” They speedily redesigned the training sessions, starting with ‘Storytelling Discipleship’ – vital for those from a culture of oral storytelling. The participants are taught not only to memorise a story, but to truly understand it from the heart. “On the first day, I was a little shy and I did not want to share,” says one participant. “But by the second session, I was eager to be the first to try storytelling.” Attendance rates have been very high, and those coming are finding it very impactful. Even after lockdown eases completely, Open Doors partners are planning to maintain this form of support.
From smuggling a car-full of Bibles to reaching thousands on the internet, God continues to use the prayers and gifts of Open Doors supporters to reach those who are following Jesus no matter the cost.
Sadly, the number of persecuted believers is growing. Open Doors estimates that 260 million Christians face high or extreme levels of persecution, which is 15 million more than last year. Altogether, one in eight Christians worldwide face persecution for their faith.
But persecution and church growth go hand in hand. In Syria, North Korea, Iraq, Iran – throughout the world – the persecuted church is not merely surviving; it is living and growing.
And it still needs our support. It’s not about simply getting by, but about helping Christians to witness to their faith. As Brother Andrew said, “The work of the church is not survival. She exists to fulfil the Great Commission. Her work is making disciples of all nations.”
Please keep giving, praying and speaking out for your persecuted church family. Thank you for all you have done so far. As Jesus says, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me.’ (Matthew 25:40)
Photo: Malaysia: Open Doors partners uses the internet for distance discipleship